diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 26, 2009

An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums
Freud Museum

Location: 20 Maresfield Gardens NW3 5SX [map]
Open: Wednesday to Sunday (12noon - 5pm)
Admission: £5 (plus £2 for audio guide)
Brief summary: where dreams were couched
Website: www.freud.org.uk
Time to set aside: an hour

In September 1938 the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud fled his home in Austria in an attempt to escape from Nazi persecution. He was 82 years old, with terminal cancer, and longed to live out his final months in a place of safety alongside his beloved family. So he came to England and moved into a large townhouse in West Hampstead, in a leafy suburban avenue just up the hill from Finchley Road station. A year later Freud was dead, but his final home still bears the mark of one of the greatest minds that ever lived.

20 Maresfield GardensFreud's house looks particularly alluring in the spring, behind a clipped green hedge beneath blossoming branches. Step through the pale blue front door into the entrance hall and it's equally peaceful inside. The house is very much as it once was, with Sigmund's possessions and collections on display from room to room. The ground floor study reflects many aspects of his personality. At the garden end is Freud's desk, stacked with intricate statuettes from around the world. His specially-made chair, designed for slouching, looks like an abstract torso with open arms (very Freudian). Around the walls are leather-bound volumes interspersed with a number of classical antiquities - this was more Freud's museum than his library.

And up against the far wall, yes it is, it's that couch. It was donated by a grateful patient in 1890 and was the centre of Sigmund's greatest work over the subsequent half century. Here his clients reclined to outpour their dreams, while the old man sat in a green tub chair to one side trying to make sense of their free association. The couch is still covered by a beautiful oriental throw, its border illustrated with (what else?!) a row of fertility symbols. Freud saw only a handful of patients during his time in London, so it seems somehow highly unfair that this historic piece of furniture has ended up here rather than at his former residence in Vienna.

Freudian plaquesFreud was so frail during his year in Hampstead that he never once went upstairs. He never saw the light spacious bedrooms, one now devoted to an exhibition of his life and work, another now somewhere to sit and watch documentaries and home movie footage. An adjacent drawing room is devoted to his daughter Anna, herself a psychoanalyst of note, whose blue plaque graces the front of the house along with her father's. Meanwhile on the landing are further objects, relics and treasures collected over a lifetime of cultural travelling, plus artwork including a Dali portrait and a dreamlike painting by the Wolfman, one of Freud's most famous patients.

The back garden was the great man's pride and joy. He'd never had one before, nothing so green and leafy, so spent much of his final spring and summer sat out in the open conservatory. That conservatory is now a shop where you can buy a mass of Freud-related memorabilia, and I was impressed by the range and untackiness of what was available. A huge selection of books, for a start, some scholarly and others rather more populist. You can buy a SuperEgo badge for your rucksack, or a beardy finger puppet, or even a pair of rather witty Freudian slippers. It's also the place to hire an audio guide on your way in - two pounds well spent to provide much illuminating background information during your walk round the house. With a bit of luck you'll learn a lot about the man who invented psychoanalysis, and learn just a little bit more about yourself along the way.
by tube: Finchley Road

F is also for...
» Fan Museum (waiting for a jamjar moment)
» Fashion and Textile Museum (Zandra's contemporary collection)
» Firepower (The Royal Artillery Museum) (The most exciting thing in Woolwich, probably)
» Florence Nightingale Museum (I've been)
» Forty Hall Museum (Enfield) (I've been)
» Foundling Museum (I've been)
» Fulham Palace (waiting for a jamjar moment)

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